Ordinarily at this point in the holiday season I'm beginning to stress out. Shopping, wrapping, decorating, budgeting... not to mention regular life must go on. House still needs to be cleaned, baby still needs attention, groceries aren't going to buy themselves or whip themselves up into nutritious meals. This season, however, I would say on the Official Stress Scale of 1-10, my stress is at about a 3 (my nurse friends/family are loving that I just made that up). Regular daily life could have me above that at times, so for 12 days away from Christmas, I feel like I'm doing really well.
I was thinking about this fact and wondering what has made the difference for me this year. A few things came to mind...
1. No Budget Worries.
For years now I've had an automatic savings account transfer money every pay day into an account that's just for Christmas. I dip into it occasionally during the year if we have a lot of weddings hit one summer or something like that. But it's healthy enough that my holiday season isn't compromised as a result of those incidences. I have no idea how I would Christmas shop if not for that account. When the end of November approaches, I transfer it into our regular checking account and put it on a gift card so our joint account doesn't give away where we're shopping. So while this isn't something different I've done this year, it's something that makes a huge difference in my holiday stress.
2. Shop early.
This year I did 80% of my shopping on Black Friday online. Yes, I realize you can get better online deals by waiting for Cyber Monday, but I honestly worry about things being out of stock after Black Friday. However, instead of "shopping" on Black Friday, I spent the month of November loading up my carts on sites I knew I would be buying a lot from like Amazon.com and Carters.com. This way I had everything in the cart and just needed to sign in and click "checkout." I still got things on sale and was able to score every item I wanted. I've never planned gifts and pre-loaded my carts before but it was so nice to be able to shop casually and just drop things into the cart for later. I will definitely be using that method again in the future.
3. Keep it organized.
I'm generally an organized person so this isn't totally brand new either. I always make a list of people I need to shop for and jot down gift ideas and a general budget. I have a lot of people to shop for though, and it's easy to lose track of a few extra dollars here and there. So this year I took it to a new level and designed a full spreadsheet. Not only does it track the people I need to shop for, but their gifts, my budget for each individual, the actual cost of their gifts (and total cost if they got multiples.. luck them!), how much over or under budget I am on each person and overall, my total spending, how much is left total in the budget, and last but not least... the ideal type of wrapping for each gift! Oh. Man. It has been so helpful. I was able to go $26 over budget on one person and still remain $11 under total budget! I'd never know my budget to the penny like that if not for my spreadsheet. I think there may even be some money in there I can spend on the dog!
4. Keep it simple.
In the past I've been one to search the world over for a "perfect" gift. I love giving gifts, especially if they knock your socks off. But this year I let that go in favor of simplicity and practicality. I've always been a believer in Amazon wish lists. If someone has one, I use it. While I used to stress over choosing the coolest thing on the list, this year I tried to think of what items would make peoples' lives easier. If they picked the stuff out, that means they WANT it, right? You can't go wrong, and it means less time I spend hunting for a "perfect" item. I've also tried to focus on giving the kinds of gifts I'd want to receive. Practical, useful, meaningful, beautiful. Last year I made a lot of Christmas gifts. It was fun but time consuming. This year I've done a combination of shopping and making. Pinterest has been a fun resource. I've seen lots of ideas on there that I've been able to easily modify for adorable, useful gifts. Those are usually the ones that are most budget friendly too which is a win-win. I like that I can put something together in 15 minutes for around $15 that is still something I'd be delighted to receive. Even if I'm shopping instead of making a gift, keeping it to practical items makes shopping so much easier. A cozy throw blanket, some gourmet/homemade goodies, a pretty frame, tickets to a museum or event, or a delicious bottle of wine. Who wouldn't love those things? Your friend may not fall off her chair with excitement when she opens your homemade cocoa mix and hand-dipped chocolate pretzels, but the gift is sweet and heart-warming, and isn't that the point? Gadgets, schmadgets.
The holidays really are about being with those you love. We all get caught up in the ritual of it from time to time and think that the food, gifts, wrapping, and party all have to be picture perfect. This year my step-dad, who has come through an intense round of chemo and radiation to treat cancer of his esophagus, will be having surgery on December 22nd to remove his entire esophagus. The chemo and radiation were very successful, but surgery is the standard next step for this type of cancer. Needless to say, our holiday celebration is going to be a little different than usual, and up until very recently, we had no idea what it would be like. Normally my mom spends the whole day preparing a traditional Christmas dinner. This year she'll be at the hospital most of the day and then come home for dinner and gifts with us. Now that his surgery date is official, we've decided to all pitch in to make a simple dinner at my mom's house, and then we'll exchange gifts as usual. So things are going to be different, but it's not about what we're eating, or who prepared it, or even where we celebrate since we were prepared to be in a hospital waiting room if necessary. We're just going to enjoy being together on Christmas.
Do you have any tips and tricks for keeping your holidays stress-free? Are you having an unconventional holiday celebration? Do share! You're not alone :)